Source: Times Online
A wealthy retired builder was ordered to pay more money to the woman he divorced nearly 30 years ago after a judge heard she had “fallen on hard times”, the Court of Appeal heard yesterday.
Dennis North, 70, married his first wife Jean, 61, in 1964 and they divorced in 1978, a year after he found out that she was having an affair.
In 1981 he made a financial settlement with her, buying her a house and investments. Over the years, he increased her assets so that she would be able to live comfortably for the rest of her life, the judges were told.
But in 1999, she sold up and moved to Australia, and her capital dwindled because of bad investments and because of what the court heard was a lifestyle beyond her means.
Mr North, who lives in Derbyshire, was left to bring up their three children and went on to remarry and have two more children. Since divorcing his first wife, he had prospered and is now estimated to be worth between £5 million and £11 million, the court was told.
A district judge agreed in April that her money troubles had nothing to do with her former husband and that he had no further responsibility towards her, but awarded her £202,000.
Mr North wants the Court of Appeal to quash the award. Philip Moor, QC, representing him, told the panel of judges headed by Lord Justice Thorpe that Mrs North had made no attempt to find a job since 1977, when she was 32.
When she sold all her assets and emigrated, she chose to live in an expensive part of Sydney, he said. She is believed now to be living near Leeds.
“The whole purpose of divorce is to disentangle people so they can lead independent lives,” he said. “The effect of the order is to give Mrs North a second bite of the cherry.”
Mr Moor said that the district judge had found that had Mrs North stayed in England she would have been comfortably off for the rest of her life. He added: “He then made a number of findings of fact as to the lifestyle choice that had damaged Mrs North’s financial position.”
Mr Moor said that these included deciding not to work, to sell up and put her money in bad investments, to live in Australia, where she had no entitlement to state benefits, and to live in one of the most desirable parts of Sydney.
He said that what the district judge had ordered was in reality for Mr North “to make up the deficit” in Mrs North’s reduced capital which had been caused by her actions.
“The changes in financial positions of the parties since 1981 and the differential between them that has arisen over the years cannot be relevant given the findings of the district judge that Mr North should not bear responsibility for Mrs North’s position.”
Deborah Bangay, QC, representing Mrs North, said that her former husband had a continued responsibility for her client and that the district judge had taken into account their differing situations. She said that it was not Mrs North’s fault that her investments had gone wrong. “She needed some support and the district judge gave her a sum at the bottom end of the spectrum,” she said.
“This was not a second bite at the cherry but what are her reasonable needs. The court was entitled to take into account the obvious wealth of the former husband. It was an extraordinarily modest award set against his wealth.”
Lord Justice Thorpe, Lord Justice May and Mr Justice Bennett reserved their ruling to a later date.